Discuss: Should crime reports include race of subject(s) if known?

A story in the Virginia Pilot concerning a home invasion and shooting outside of Norfolk, Va. originally provided a suspect description that included  “black males” but the story was changed to exclude that part of the description. Should editors include black, white, Asian (etc.) as descriptions in news stories when racial identification is pertinent?

The current story is here, and includes the following paragraph.

Little is known about the two other suspects other than their basic descriptions: one is 5-foot-8 to 6 feet tall, weighing 180 pounds and was wearing a green jacket and blue jeans; the other is 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3, weighing 200 pounds and was wearing a brown jacket.

The original story did describe the men as black men in addition to the description in the current article. I contacted Veronica Gonzalez and she confirmed. Via email she responded…

Yes. I’m not sure why that’s not online again, but yes, they were both described as black men.

The 2007 hard-copy of the AP Style Guide I have provides guidelines for race when racial identification is pertinent in a story. You would think that when describing suspects law enforcement are looking for, the race – if known – would be pertinent.

In this case, it appears an editor removed the racial identification from the story after it was submitted by the writer. Your comments?

9 replies
  1. Marilyn
    Marilyn says:

    When looking for suspects it’s part of a description.? When reporting the supsects were caught in the home invasion case……. physicall description not needed.

  2. Plainvillian
    Plainvillian says:

    If the story concerns Ramon Ahmed Svenson, might clarification be in order?? Could one not make the argument that in our heterogeneous society, race and perhaps ethnicity should always be noted??

  3. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Absolutely, particularly in lieu of a mug shot.? Race is as much an identifier as a scar, tattoo or prominent birthmark.
    Of course, there is the issue of sociopaths like Charles Stewart in Boston, misleading police about the identity of alleged attackers of his wife.

  4. Benjamin Less
    Benjamin Less says:

    Race ID in crime reports expose misconceptions as well as preconceived notions to its reading/viewing public.? An example would be a region of the State with a high concentration of crime and most residents of that area conclude those crimes as being committed by a certain race majority.? Race ID can actually be a good balancing act for those who would second guess last names or regional demographics.? In the cases where an accused was being sought, this would aid for better identification as well.
    The truer outlook for newspapers with a Police Blog or daily “Police Report” was to expose and inform citizens of neighbors who were doing wrong.? In a word’s sense, back in the old days it was humiliating to have your name in the local papers and your family dragged into the public line light.? As children it was considered worse than the arrest itself.? This concept of personal responsibility of one’s own actions has dwindled over the years while seeing parents defend their offspring while blaming the system and not their children for illegal acts.? It’s really a moot point to even think that anyone could be humiliated having their family name published in the blotter now-a-days.? The…

  5. ricbee
    ricbee says:

    I’ve been working with Africans,Indians(both kinds),Asians of every stripe,except striped. Plus every shade of white there is. When trying to describe someone,we do say things like “black as ink”,”a little darker than me”,”blond-blue-eyed”,”kinda tannish” etc. The hue is an important identification aspect & maybe a comparison with a known personality,like”Obama”, or Reagan,Tonto or Hoppalong would be useful.

  6. winnie
    winnie says:

    I absolutely think that race should be noted in news reports during an on-going manhunt.? Mentioning the clothing they wore while committing the crime really is irrelevant because clothing can be changed, and so can hair color for that matter.? Kinda tough to change skin color.? I would think it is one of the most important identifiers of a criminal on the run.? To be “fair”, news reports should not just identify black suspects as black, but white as white, Hispanic as Hispanic, Indian as Indian, etc.?

    If we have to identify our race on the census and that’s not considered wrong, why can’t we identify someone’s race after they’ve committed a crime?? Shouldn’t public safety come first?

  7. Gary J
    Gary J says:

    Race if known is the same thing as an ear missing, a scar on face.a man wearing a dress,long or short hair—–and on and on. It is simply part of a description.

  8. PatRiot
    PatRiot says:

    There is always a small percentage of ANY group that ruins it for the rest of the group.
    Including race in?an article responsibly should spur that group on to fix the problem instead of covering up the facts and truth.? Kinda like cleaning the kitchen disposal out instead of spraying Fabrese to cover the smell.
    Just like it is important to identify who is responsible for a shooting:
    the lawbreaker or a law abiding gun owner defending?him/herself.?

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